Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Mataxas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  For those who don't know who he is, you should.  He was man of great faith and knowledge who had the task of calling his beloved country, Germany, out of madness.  Born of the wealthy level of society, born of a traditional family whose morals were strict and whose practice of faith was  mixed.  He made one unconventional move after another feeling compelled by God to rethink the way his German Lutheran heritage lived its faith.  Those moves led him to conspire to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

This biography is actually two biographies: one of Pastor Bonhoeffer and the other of his homeland Germany.  Not only are we given a insight into the man but an insight into how a country could have fallen under the spell of a madman like Adolf Hitler.  Central to both was the German Church which had grown to be a deaf and toothless watchdog.  The lines between faith and nationalism were drawn and one had to chose a side.  Hitler had managed to deftly merge the two for a marriage of convenience to a bride he hoped to dispose of with when the time was right.

In this biography, we are able to see the multiple influences upon him: family, friends, scholars, and faith.  In the last, we see he could not be sated with the status quo; he often would ring a clarion bell to which few, especially within his church, would heed.  We see a man who strove to maintain his Christian witness, even to the moment of his execution.

On the one hand , we are given an insight into the toxic mix of nationalism and vengeance that became Nazi Germany.  We see a people so angered by the ill formed Treaty of Versailles that anyone who could exact revenge would be followed.  We see a people reduced to poverty who were so hungry for a savior, even if that savior was a murderous fiend, they would follow.  We see a country whose political and religious institutions were ill equipped to deal with such frustration.  We see that the churches were already emptying, that faith was more a private devotion, and faith was easily disposed with when a false messiah took the stage.  We are left to gasp at the rise of evil as the world had never seen prior.  We will see that venomous recipe be dumped across the world through war and genocide.

Yet at the same time, we are introduced to Bonhoeffer and his friends and co-conspirators who would not go quietly into that good night.  We see incredible faith and bravery in the cast of characters.  We see a man who knew that faith could not be regulated to the cold pews of a Church, but had to be transported as well into the world at large...that the only way to prevent such evil was to live the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ in the fashion of the Sermon on the Mount.  We see a man and his compatriots who found the Final Solution as evil and something worth laying their own lives down to stop.

The reader is left asking some very disturbing questions about the world today.  The circumstances which allowed for the totalitarianism of National Socialism are still with us.  For us Americans, as we see the tactics of a Saul Alinsky played out (tactics identical in many ways to the rise of the Third Reich) in our society and politics, as we see our society fractured and straw men villains erected for our disapproval, as we see a government who wants us to surrender our freedoms bit by bit, who will be the Bonhoeffers in our midst?  Who will stand and be counted among those who will not allow our society to be dragged into madness?  Who will hold firm on their Christian beliefs and stand against the victimization of entire segments of our society (the unborn for example)?  Who will see what the popes since WWII have begged us to do and live our faith not just for an hour on Sunday, but throughout the rest of the week as well?  Who of us will stand for the unpopular truth, even if it means suffering and sacrifice?  As in the time of Bonhoeffer, we need heroes to arise and stand defiantly courageous!

Mr Metaxas use extensive writings of Bonhoeffer, public and private, to paint not just the man but the world in which he lived.  We see the passage of time and necessity to respond to situations as they devolved.  It is a morality tale as much as a biography.  It is a tale we would do well to listen.

A Most Deadly Affair: The Left and Abortion.

I saw a meme not long ago saying that to the left, abortion is the highest sacrament; on par with the Eucharist with Catholics.  Both have as central to the belief the words, "This is my body." I think it holds true.  For the left, a woman's body is hers to do with as she pleases.  A baby in the womb is seen as a parasite on her body, hence, at the disposal of the woman to do with as she sees fit.  In this scenario, the baby in the womb is not a separate entity deserving of any human rights.  No, its humanity is left to the whim of the woman.  You'll notice I am saying woman and not mother; this is to reflect the beliefs of the left.  For the left, abortion is the fail safe should their other sacraments of sexual promiscuity and birth control not work.  Abortion and artificial birth control have the same root on the left: the deadly love affair they have with eugenics.

What is eugenics you ask?  It is a belief that the survival of the human species depends upon the weeding our of lesser traits.  In his book, "The Descent of Man", Charles Darwin  remarked to his dissatisfaction that humanity was the only species that protected its weak and deficient.  Throw in some Friedrich Nietzsche, and some Margaret Sanger, and you have an explosive movement that  became the philosophical underpinnings of the progressive movement.  It was Margaret Sanger who started using birth control and forced sterilization of those seen as 'weeds' and feeble lesser strains of humanity.  Ms. Sanger was a committed racist.  Her organization started spreading clinics throughout the country and world for the expressed purpose of eliminating the lesser strains; placing most of them in in impoverished and minority neighborhoods.  Her organization is a darling of the left, actually its flagship.  No matter what vile things this group does, no matter how deceptive it is, no matter how it targets minorities, the left will always come to the defense of this group and pour tons of money into it,  I am talking, of course, of Planned Parenthood.

Now, mix this with the fact that progressivism is basically slow cooker socialism.  It is patient socialism.  Instead of revolution, it slowly takes over institutions and becomes the norm.  I invite the reader to reader to read Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals."  Paramount to socialism is the providing of everything for the underclasses.  This sounds Christian, correct?  Except for the nasty little reason why they want to provide: if one can strip the ability of a person to provide for themselves, one can have absolute control over them.  This is why gun control is also a sacrament of the left.  One does not want a populace that can defend itself against its oppressors.  It is why the government must have control over everything; it must so burden the populace with laws and regulations as to make dependence the only acceptable outcome.

What do you get with such a mixture of progressivism and eugenics?  The power to enforce eugenics with abandon.  Many of the people that progressivism champions will be the first to be effected.    Doubt me?  Study the history of the rise of communism in Russia and the eastern Bloc, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and the rise of National Socialism in Germany.  The death tolls from these events are staggering.  That any country who plays with this snake thinks they will be spared is a country that most certainly will be bitten and injected with the worst of venoms!

Both progressivism and eugenics have an antipathy towards Judeo-Christianity.  They have to.  The view of human life and dignity are so polar opposites, that one can not live freely with the existence of the other. What makes Judeo-Christianity so very dangerous is its beliefs that every single human person has an inherent dignity which must be respected and protected because every single human being is loved by God.  The New Testament especially makes clear that love of God and love of neighbor are so intertwined that to do damage against a person, intentional or unintentional, is an offense against God Himself.  To see humanity as a group to divide and conquer, to balkanize, to pick winners and loser is antithetical  to Judeo-Christianity.  This is why the progressives seek to limit free speech (the love affair with hate speech, micro-aggressions, safe zones) as a tool for quieting dissent,  It is why is is perfectly acceptable to dismiss so many of the arguments against eugenics and progressivism  as religious babble and outdated superstitions.  They must!  That's why truth must be a subjective reality, no matter how inane the claims made.  If all things can be reduced to opinion, all the easier to rid themselves the purveyors of objective truth...especially Judeo-Christianity.

I have news for the progressives and eugenicists: you may be able to rack up quite the body count; you have....hundreds of millions.  You will lose however.  You always do.  Hence, those of the Judeo-Christian faiths: DO NOT BACK DOWN FROM THE TRUTH!  Make no compromises with entities who seek your destruction. Be the wall between these jackals and their prey.  It is so sad to see elements of various Judeo-Christian faiths, including entire churches, who have co-opted the Gospel to try and make some hybrid faith in which the principles of progressivism and eugenics can be given a shiny smiley face; a mask that hides their demonic nature.  They are Judases, plain and simple.

Know who we are up against but do not lose sight of our basic premise  that God does love every single person; the destruction of our enemy cannot be our goal, no the conversion of those who count themselves out enemy.  That can be done without conceding a single iota of ground.  It can be done and gain ground.  Let us not lose sight of who wins at he end.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Church of Piety and the Church of Power

The Roman Catholic Church.  The largest non national entity in the world.  She is made of up of over 1.2 billion adherents spread throughout almost every country in the world.  Her adherents live under every form of human governance and socioeconomic system known to man.  She has been consistently persecuted throughout her 2000 year history.  She has outlived every persecutor.  She has been ruled by saints.  She has been ruled by scoundrels.  She has been in a constant state of  reform.  She is the largest healthcare provider and educator on the planet.  From her came colleges, universities, hospitals, orphanages, social welfare, etc. She is the largest source of charity on the planet.  She has been  praised, pilloried, undermined, and betrayed from the inside, yet she stands tall.   We believe that despite all of this she stands not because of her mere human element, but because of the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus and given at Pentecost.

The Roman Catholic Church is a complex lady.  She is so because she is chock full of human beings; human beings full of grace, human beings full of foibles. Those human beings can grow lax and selfish and then grow selfless and magnanimous.  Our history as a Church reflects these truths.  Our governance reminds us that such a large entity moves, by nature, very cautiously and slowly.  In her governance, the Church Militant (the part of the Body of Christ on earth) has two groups who are in constant and necessary sides of the spectrum: the church of power and the church of piety.

I borrow these terms from author and historian, Rodney Clark, from his recently published book, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History.  In Chapter 9, the chapter on the canard that the Church prefers authoritarian civil governments, he uses these terms to describe the two churches: The Church of Power and the Church of Piety. "The Church of power was the main body of the Church that evolved in response to the immense status and wealth bestowed on the clergy by Constantine." In short, they're the administrators.  The leadership of the church mainly falls into this task.  They are given the duty of the upkeep of the infrastructure necessary to do the work of the Church.  Someone has to maintain the parishes, dioceses, educational systems, and the myriad of other ministries the Church has.  But on their own, they can turn the church into a business.

The Church of Piety, according to Dr. Stark, is what 'pressed for virtue over worldliness and constantly attempted to reform the Church of Power...the task of conversion...of evangelization" was left to the Church of Piety.  If the Church of Power upkeeps the infrastructure, the Church of Piety gives the reason for it to exist.  If the Church of Power can be likened to the body of the Church, so the Church of Piety is its soul.  Much like our own bodies and souls, there can be as usually is tension between them.

Before I go any further, it is worth admitting I really am more of the Church of Piety even though by virtue of my role as pastor, there are times I have to be in the Church of Power.  To tip my hand a bit, I see both parts of the Church Militant as necessary, but I believe the Church of Power is to serve the Church of Piety.  I realize there must be administration, but that the administration serves the ends of the  mission of the Church.  Even in my own administrating of my parish, I believe that the budget should not determine the mission, but that the mission should determine the budget.  Well maintained empty buildings are of little use when not engaged in the mission of the Church.  Balanced budget matter little when the mission of the Church goes unfulfilled in the local area.   However, the mission does require infrastructure.

When one dominates to the exclusion of the other, it rarely works out well.  When the church of power dominates it can become a church fixated on the things of man and not the things of God.  It becomes corrupt.  It is the equivalent of a zombie, a soulless body still moving but actively rotting as it does.  When the church of piety dominates to the exclusion of the church of power, it loses its infrastructure and and become muddled and even fall into heresy.  It can be the equivalent of a ghost,  a cognizant entity with no physical structure in which to operate. 

When the two parts of the Church Militant walk hand in hand, both the work of the Church and the means of this work stride along.  One cannot lose sight that the other is needed.  In fact, both churches should reside in the same person when it comes to leadership within the Church.  Truth be told, the Church has survived without the church of power, but her ability to get about the mission of the Church was hampered in the process.  Being more in the Church of Piety than Power, I can and do get frustrated with the ambition, politics, and even lack of vision of the Church of Power.  They, in turn, can see me as a bit of a loose cannon, a curmudgeon, and as having my head in the clouds.  Fair enough...just as long as we never lose sight as to why the Church exist: to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the conversion and salvation of souls.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Role of the Priest in Mass

I believe that part of understanding the Mass is understanding what is the role of the priest  is in Mass.  In a concept, he is to act as the Person Christi, the Person of Christ.  Upon his priestly ordination his soul is ontologically changed so that when the ministry demands that he speak in the person of Christ, he may do so, not for his own good, but for the good of those to whom he has been sent to serve.  For example, within the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when the priest speaks the words of absolution, it is not he that forgives, but Christ using him who forgives.  This same idea happens at Mass and informs much of what the role of the priest is during Mass.

In Mass, the priest stands in a crossroads between the world and heaven; he represents God in his role as teacher and priest, he stands before God interceding for the good of his flock.  He brings the prayers of thanksgiving, adoration, penance, and petition before God and brings the grace of God, most powerfully seen in the Eucharistic species to feed his flock.  Of all the parties involved in Mass, is job is specifically to serve both the people and God.  He, himself, is not to be the focus of attention.  One of the less than subtle ways the Church points this reality out is that the priest cannot make up things as he goes a long; a ritual is provided, words are provided, scripture texts are provided.  He is forbidden by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal paragraph 24 from changing any actions, rubrics, or words in the Mass.  This is done to preserve that the Mass is of the Roman Rite and not the Mass of the Fr. Bill (or any priest) Rite. A master changes things, a servant obeys.

The priests has two focuses in the Mass.  There are times when his focus is the flock.  This is especially seen during the Liturgy of the Word where the priest uses the homily as a time of instruction, exhortation, and example to apply the Scriptures to the lives of his flock.  The homily should always have the purpose of drawing the listener into a deeper relationship with Christ.  To misuse the homily as a time for stand up comedy, teaching falsehoods, or putting on a show is criminal; it is poisoning the flock one is called to feed,  A good priest knows that anything he might have to offer will pale as compared to what God has to offer; he will allow the homily to point to God.  In other places in the Mass he stands in the Person of Christ in offering absolution (penitential rite) and blessing to the flock gathered.

The second focus is that of God.  In offering prayers, especially the Eucharistic prayer, he stands before God as the intercessor for the people assigned him.  His priesthood mirrors the priesthood of Christ who is our great intercessor before the Father. It occurs to me that when the people pray for the priest it is at junctures when the priest must give something of God to them, they pray for the priest because he must stand before God in intercession:  first at the beginning of the penitential rite where the priest will be called upon to give absolution for venial sins, second before the priest enters into the Eucharistic Prayer, third when the priest starts the Eucharistic prayer, fourth when the priest extends the peace of Christ, and fifth when he is about to extend God's blessings.  A sixth time is also possible when he is the reader of the Gospel, because he now must give the words of the Gospel to his people.  When the priest is the momentary focus, it is only so that he may be prayed for so that he may worthily carry out what the office of priesthood demands during the Eucharist. At each of these junctures the priest is reminded of his intercessory role and that in that role, his focus must be on God.  One does not ask for something without focusing on the person he is asking.

At that altar, the priest makes present by the power of the Holy Spirit our share in the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross.  He does not re-enact the Last Supper.  He does not put on a passion play.  In fact, he is to be as transparent as possible, for it is the words of Christ that make what is happening happen.  At that altar, the focus of all in the Church is on Jesus Christ.  In this role the priest must take the attitude of St. John the Baptist, "He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease." In this proper disposition, the priest is not the master of the sacrifice, but the servant of the sacrifice.

I know this gets muddled many times and parishioners can often have to brace for impact every time they get a new pastor or even a fill-in while the pastor is away.  The Church does not want this to happen.  Again, it is why a uniting ritual, with same words and actions, is given.  It is also why the faith of the priest is always on display in Mass.  Through his actions and instruction, through his obedience, he models the life of Christ and exhorts his flock to do so as well.  When the priest makes mass about himself, his wisdom, his stylings, and his tastes he robs the flock of the very thing they have the right to receive in coming to Mass.    Namely, a moment of real contact with the transcendent God who wishes to make Himself known to us.  Woe to the priest who stands in the way of this meeting!  I cannot point to God and myself at the same time without making myself a God! No, priests within the Mass are to point away from themselves just as Jesus pointed away from Himself and to the Father...just as Mary pointed away from herself and towards God.  Because the Mass is supposed to be the place where we get the grace necessary to live the life of Christ, we can never allow Christ to be ignored or placed in a secondary place.  The priest has the ability to place the focus where it need be or steal the spotlight for himself.  Pray that any priest will never usurp the attention owed God for himself!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Some Musings About Mass

I will have to admit two things up front: 1) Vacation allows me much time to ponder things, and 2) In said ponderings, I come to the conclusion I am not a fan of being passively entertained.  I do not watch TV.  I do not go to the movies.  Video games leave me cold for the most part.  I do like live music.  More often than not, I prefer to use my time chatting and interacting.  What has this do to with Mass?  In my ponderings, I go to thinking about responses I got to a couple questions that I had posted.  There was  thread of answers about making Mass speak more to this or that group.  In general it has troubled me that  this response is so common.  It is not said by bad people or by fools.  It is said by people frustrated with the emptying pews, especially when those pews no longer have their family and friends sitting in them. This phenomenon is nothing new.  Statistically we have seen a steady decline for decades.  In these ponderings, I am thinking out loud.  I wish there were simple answers.

It's not about entertainment

Disposition matters.  When I go into a movie I am looking for a little escapism or to get some emotion going.  My job is to sit back and wait for it to happen.  The merit of the movie comes in what it does for me.  If I like it, then I will watch it again.,  If not, I will not.  Once a TV show goes in a direction I do not care for, I will cease watching it.

This happens in churches.  We will see people flock to a church because of the show.  Whether that show is on the stage of mega-church or a local church, we will go where we feel we get something. I read the book, Rebuilt.  I thought they analyzed the situation on the ground well.  What disappointed me was they fed into the mentality of providing a bigger bang and more activities.  That certainly has been the prevailing consensus.  What I want can be a fickle thing.  Entertainment is always a matter of taste.  Some like older stuff, some like newer stuff.  The things is this: if your orientation going into Mass about what you can get, feel, or be satisfied...then the orientation is wrong.

Mass is not about what I receive primarily, but what I give.  Our primary task in going to Mass is to give thanks to God.  What of Communion, then?  Because we are supposed to be in a relationship with God, we show our love for Him through our thanksgiving, He shows His love for us by giving us His Body and Blood.  Mass is supposed to be an exchange of love; a precursor to heaven.  What we offer is paltry in comparison to what we are given.  However, if we do not even see giving God thanks as our primary job, then Mass will lose its meaning.  When Sancrosanctum Concilium ( the Constitution on the Liturgy from Vatican II) asked for the members of the church to give 'full, active, and conscious participation, it was an acknowledgement of our task in the Mass.  Thanksgiving can hardly be given by merely being in a place where Mass is happening.  It would be like going to friend's home for dinner, ignoring the friend, eating his food and departing.

Mass is about this interchange of love.  Indeed at the end of the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus reminds us that it was those who did the will of the Father, not those who just showed up, but those who entered into a relationship with God who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  How much more can God come to know us (as if he doesn't already) than through this exchange of thanksgiving for Communion? 

This can be done in the most humble of circumstances.  Such masses have been done in the most glorious of Cathedrals and on the battlefield.  Trying to make Mass accessible is saying that this holy exchange isn't enough.  That is a rather blasphemous thing to say.

To whom shall we turn?

This topic has bothered me for some time and is sure to get people riled.  The Church allows for Mass facing the People.  In fact, this seems to be the practiced norm.  I have tried to find why this was decided.  People like to cast dispersion and accusation as to why.  I am one who looks to the writings of the Church herself.  I want to believe it was done for the best of intentions.  I do not think it was a wise thing though.  Before you get your feathers in a ruffle, hear me out.

Posture matters.  In Catholicism we use a number of postures during Mass.  They can connote prayer, listening, adoration.  The position of the priest points to something.  Namely, it points to orientation.  Where is the focus and what is his job?  When the directionality is to the people, such as the readings, homily, and such then it is appropriate to face the people as the priest is acting as teacher.  But the priest has another role as well: that of intercessor.  He prays for his flock and that prayer is not directed at the flock, but is directed to God.  Many priests will forget that and morph into a showman. I think that Mass facing the people facilitates this.  It can feed into the 'entertain me' mode.  It can feed in the orientation being away from God.

I am not saying this necessarily happens.  But the focus of Mass is not to be the priest.  Neither is to be the people.  Our focus is on God...His focus is on us.  Our focus cannot be on any person in that room.  Consider how we believe that upon ordination a priest soul is changed because he must be able to share in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.  The priesthood of Christ was not to put the focus on Himself.  Rather, He was the great teacher and intercessor for us before the Father.  That is the priest's role in the Mass.  I believe that perhaps at certain times during the Mass, especially during the Eucharistic Prayer, we would be better reminded of this reality were the priest facing God at this time.  People like to say in a deriding fashion that priest has his back to the people; except at the moment the focus isn't the people and it isn't the priest.  The focus is God.  I believe our posture should give witness to this and introduce an understanding that the whole entertainment motif has no business in our masses.

I sincerely believe that this has hurt priestly vocations.  There is something greatly noble about being that intercessor between God and His People.  This isn't a power trip, but a powerful witness to the manly role we take in being an intercessor.  If the priest comes across as a holy showman, it will be to the detriment of the flock; the focus is dangerously taken away from where it should be. Being the showman is intimidating.  It is not something most young men want to do.  It places the success of the Mass on the priest and not on God.  Who feels able to that?

The Roman Missal itself presupposes that the priest is facing the same direction as the people as it gives the instruction 'the priest turns to the people'.  I have good friends try to explain this away; but I have found their explanations widely insufficient. 

These musings are by no means exhaustive treatises on Mass, but written thoughts on a couple of matters for the reader.  Like them, don't like them...I am not Moses coming down from Mt Sinai.  I am saying that both of these things merit further prayer.  I challenge the reader with this parting thought:  Try going into Mass with a disposition of giving thanks to God as your primary reason for being there.  See where it takes you.  God can be given thanks just as easily in the maelstrom as He can in agreeable circumstances; it comes down to our willingness to try.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dismissing Hades: A Perilous Decision

At the beginning of his Catholicism Series, Bp. Robert Barron points out that Jesus compels us to make a choice.  We are with Him or against Him.  There is no third option.  Why so a commanding request?  The answer lies in what hangs in the balance.  In a word: eternity.  Heaven and hell.  For many in out society the option is narrowed to one: heaven.  As we have reduced the devil to a mythological figure, a metaphysical bogey man, a cheap we have tossed his dominion, hell.  If there be a hell, for many, it is the deposit for evil spirits.  The elimination of hell is the triumph of the modernistic heresy called universalism:  everyone goes to heaven.  Surely that is something any decent person can get behind. But there are certain things you will have to be rid of first.  Thing that many modern theologians and philosophers are trying to get rid of, by the way.

First you must be rid of the concept of free will.  If there are no consequences for one's actions, then free will has no real meaning.  If the outcome is the same regardless of what is done, then the impetus to do good is at best silly.  There is no sense to judging anyone's actions.  We may get together and randomly declare what we can and can't do at this moment, making morality a mythological construct.  Morality is replaced with legality.  Hence, you must get rid of the concept of objective truth.  Truth becomes whatever is agreed upon with in a society.  Justice is now merely a matter of the capricious whims of those who rule.  In a world without the concept of hell, justice is malleable, random, and largely a weapon of control.

I have just described our society.  In a world without hell, there will be no other possible road other than moral anarchy.  Society will break down as selfishness is given a license to do whatever it pleases.  No hell gives rise to the moral absolute of selfishness; there is simply no logical reason to be good.  The reward is the same anyway.

But let's ask ourselves how this plays out in real life.  Let's delve into human nature.  Will a man who thinks he could lose his job and a man who thinks he can't lose his job going to treat their jobs the same way?  Will a person who thinks they can lose their spouse and a person who believes they cannot lose their spouse treat their spouse in the same way?  Will the person who knows his health can change for the worse going to treat his health the same as person who believes they will always be healthy?  We know from personal experience that those who know that what they have can be lost will treat much differently what they have from those who don't.  Greater diligence and care is shown; greater wisdom is applied.  This doesn't mean that the person lives in a state of paranoia, only that they are more cautious with what they have, especially if they love what they have.

If this true for our interpersonal relationships, would it not be true in regards to God?  Many will quote St John who says that God is love.  This is revealed truth.  They believe that it is this love that conquers the day and allows the person into heaven.  God cannot cease to be what He is to punish me, right?  So does God love those in hell?  Yes.  However that love is felt differently.  The person who answered positively to God's call to relationship in this life will bathe in this love much like a person who loves the truth bathes in light.  For the person who rejects that relationship with God, the same light of God's love will be a  source of eternal pain, cursed like the person who loves the cover of darkness to hide their deeds. 

Why cannot the damned change then?  We are told in the Scriptures that the damned are given what they desired.  They desired selfishness here, they will have it for eternity.  The blessed chose to love as God loves, hence, they have also chosen their lot.  Dante Alighieri,  in his work The Inferno, had the damned forever engaged in the activity they chose over God.  Where their endeavors on earth brought them a joy, now they are trapped forever in a futile loop of their own making.  It makes sense.  Hell is the complete absence of heaven, hence nothing of God nor heaven can exist in hell.

In Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Pearl, Captain Barbossa remarks on their lot, "The drink would not satisfy, food turned to ash in our mouths, all the pleasurable company in the world could not slake our lust.  We are cursed men." Nothing of God can exists in hell.  The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love...gone forever.  Gone too are the gifts of the Holy Spirit; gone are wisdom, knowledge, fear of the Lord, counsel, piety, understanding ,and fortitude...evaporating like dew into the ether.  With them go the fruits of then Holy know peace, joy, and such...all gone.  Any impetus to convert is gone, because the impetus to convert is from God.

Now, a loving God would not will such for us.  He would not create us for hell.  This said, we might well freely choose hell.  We choose it by choosing things that please us over God.  We influence others to hell by teaching them that the things of this world matter more than the things of God.  Dismissing hell is the ultimate way of absolving ourselves of our own selfishness. 

So should fear hell as the primary way of spurring us to the right thing.  Not on its own.  Not by a longshot.  Does the man who does his job well necessarily need to worry about losing his job? Security comes in doing the right thing.  Does the person who truly love their spouse need fear losing that spouse?  No.  The selflessness of love brings about a security.  If we love God, will He abandon us?  No.  BUT we must love God. 

What does that love look like?  He didn't leave us to try and figure it our on our own.  He reveals it to us.  To love Him means to seek Him first...not sports, money, jobs, pleasure, God first!  God has revealed that worship of Him shows our love of Him.  Keep holy the Sabbath.  When we have to make hard choices, do we choose for God or for something else.  Is the center, of the periphery?   What we choose over God, becomes our God.  The idea we can keep God quiet if we sit in a church building for an hour on Sunday is ludicrous.  When we spend the rest of the week putting Him second, how does that say I want what God has to offer for eternity?

We may try to throw away the concept of hell.  We  may be able to strike it from all theological speech and all public knowledge.  That does not make it go away.  Your and my actions, priorities, and choices do have eternal consequence.  In every story about a person in hell, they are surprised...shocked...that they are there.  God informs them that they are there by their own choice.  These aren't parlor games; they are real.  You cannot say you haven't been warned.  Make use now of the time allotted to you...turn back if you chosen poorly.  Or remain in rebellion or indifference.  It really is up to you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Review: Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History by Rodney Stark

History told from the perspective of someone possessing an strident ideology can make for compelling fiction. However, it remains fiction. Over the centuries there have been many, for various reasons, that have told history from an anti-Catholic perspective (sometimes an anti-religion perspective) so as to bolster their own greatness or world views.  In 'Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History", author Rodney Stark, co-director of the Studies of Religion at Baylor University, seeks to tackle these falsehoods.

In an interview about this book, Mr. Stark, who grew up Lutheran, proclaims himself an independent Christian, and teaches at the largest Baptist University in America, said this book was not dedicated to any love of Roman Catholicism but dedicated to his love of history.  In debunking  item after item, he uses what is hidden is plain sight.  Instead of seeing history through the lens of an ideologue, he sees history through the eyes of a man who simply wants to know what really happened.   He lists the historians he uses within the chapters.

He debunks canards that are favorite weapons used against Roman Catholicism: approval of slavery, the Inquisition, the Crusades, the suppression of knowledge, the approval of Antisemitism, to name a few.  Being a man looking for objective data, he neither gives the Church passes where such passes would be undue, but he sifts the lies from the truth; he sifts the history from the propaganda.  He acknowledges something most in history conveniently forget: that because a pope of council speaks does not mean that every single one of her adherents and clergy jump up and say 'Yes, Sir." The need to distinguish between what was officially taught and what was done by some needs to be clarified.

Written so as to be easily understood without sacrificing the academic acumen to tell the truth, Mr. Stark makes it easily clear why the lies were there, who they benefited, and why knowing the truth is so important.  In all, he tackles 10 separate issues commonly used to defame Catholicism.  Facts are stubborn things, as President John Adams once remarked.  Perhaps a greater clarity on the facts without the prism of ideology would go a long way to the forward progress of truth.